I didn’t think this would happen to me
Loneliness should not be a symptom of old age
“I’ve always been active. Walking, swimming, even a bit of dancing. A few years ago I had some bad falls and damaged by knees and my back. I struggle with my mobility now. My friends are busy: traveling, going out, all the things I can’t do any more. I didn’t think this would happen to me.”
John Lennon said: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Maggie was a Care Home Manager, managed a day centre and was six months into a new job when one day, 17 years ago, her own plans were cut short.
Maggie fell in the garden and damaged her left knee. She put her arm out to stop herself and dislocated it. She’d been there for over an hour before a neighbour found her.
Discharged after an overnight stay in hospital she had physio for over a year but could never get proper movement back in her arm. Several years later she was made redundant after she fell again and hurt her arm.
It was only much later, when referred to a specialist by her GP, that they realised the true extent of the damage to her arm with torn muscles, ripped tendons, nerve damage and arthritis.
“I lay on the sofa for two years in screaming agony. I couldn’t walk or exercise and dreaded getting up because of the pain.”
Having previously ran a support group for overweight women who want to exercise, supported by community nurses, Maggie had always put others first and encouraged people.
She had intended upon retirement to do voluntary work with people who were socially isolated and didn’t know how to cope but instead found herself in need of similar support.
“One day I said to myself I was sick of being sick. I was really down and depressed. I got the bus into Leeds where I came across a Leeds City Council stall that said: ‘Are you sick of being sick?’ Exactly what I’d said to myself.”
The stall was promoting a six-week health programme led by people with health issues. Maggie joined the programme which led to her engaging with other services including Touchstone, Swarthmore Centre and Feel Good Factor in Leeds.
“That was the turning point for me. That got me started again.”
Maggie participated in lots of positive care activities including massage, aromatherapy, acupuncture and art therapy as part of her rehabilitation, but says it was the social contact with other people that proved the most beneficial.
Maggie has lots of ideas about approaches to working with lonely and socially isolated older people. She envisions a support network that prepares people for retirement, offering fun and friendship, with special interest groups and mentally stimulating activities.
Her own advice to lonely older people is humble and straightforward:
“Tell yourself to smile at three people every day. Just get out there and do it. You’ll meet someone. You’ll start to see the same people and gradually find somewhere to go you feel safe. Knocks and blows along the way can really set you back. But we’re all the same.”